August 30, 2006 | Dear friends,

In my last blog I wrote that I would be spending my summer in Washington, D.C..

Well, I’m happy to say I had a fantastic summer, and I am happy also to be able to join you all here again.

My topic for today: courtship. While we have spoken of dating in the past, the word “courtship” seems to escape most people’s vocabulary. It is a notion of the past that reached its peak in the middle ages and died out with our grandparents’ generation.

Or did it?

At the beginning of the summer I was given a book to read, Arms of Love, by Carmen Marcoux. The fiction traces the relationship between Joanie Collins and Brandon Vaughn, painting a picture of what courtship means in the modern context, and of the benefits it holds for those daring enough to try it. While the story tends to be rather idealistic in how easy it makes the courtship process appear, it certainly communicates certain much-needed values that have been lost from the modern dating culture.

What I would like to do is to take the topic of courtship and divide my discussion on it into two parts, the first being on the role of the father, and the second being on the role of the family in general.

When asked over the summer by some of my fellow interns to define my understanding of courtship, I struggled to find an adequate definition. As I have come to understand courtship, however, its essential value is that it brings dating within the context of family. Do you remember that “ancient” tradition of asking permission from a girl’s father before asking her out on a date or before asking for her hand in marriage? Well, there is actually a certain value behind this. It is not that the daughter cannot make decisions for herself, or that her parents are control freaks, but rather the practice of asking permission simply brings the man to assume a sense of accountability. He recognizes that the parents are entrusted with their daughter’s well-being and safety, and he respects them for their role in their daughter’s life. In asking them for permission – to date, to go here or there with their daughter, and ultimately to marry her – he is essentially saying that he cares enough about their daughter to assume the role of being responsible for her well-being and safety.

Additionally, this practice recognizes that the father is the man in the young woman’s life. He will continue to be the man in her life until another man proves himself worthy enough of her love and affection, and he commits himself to take care of her in sickness and in health, until death do they part. Such an understanding is more likely to motivate the young man to prove himself by being responsible, trustworthy, respectful, and mature.

Here is the question we are faced with today. The responsibilities and role of the father in courtship is not only unfamiliar and often deemed unnecessary by people today, but it is also relatively impractical, as children often date away from the home, at college or wherever. What, then, can be learned from the courtship practices of the past that can be applied today?

I learned through my summer internship this summer that social science shows that the closer a son or daughter is to his/her father, the longer that child is likely to remain abstinent before marriage. Feeling close to one’s father, feeling loved by one’s father, seems to eliminate the strong desire to go looking for that love elsewhere. For a young man, then, perhaps it is being close to his father that instills in him a sense of commitment in loving a woman, and thus he is more likely to save sex for when he is in such a committed relationship. For a young woman, perhaps it is being close to her father and feeling his commitment of love and protection for her that makes her less likely to seek commitment through sex from other men. Whatever the causal relationship is, however, the data speaks for itself in showing the correlation between the presence of fatherly love and a child’s likelihood to remain abstinent. When it comes to sexuality and relationships, then, the role of the father cannot be forgotten.

Courtship, then, reminds us of the importance of the father. While it may not be possible (or even necessary at times) for a young man to seek permission in order to date a young woman or to take her here or there, it is both possible and necessary for that young man to try to develop some sort of relationship of accountability and trust with the young woman’s father, understanding and respecting his role in his daughter’s life. In order for this to be successful, however, it is equally important that fathers take a vested interest in their children, providing them with the security, love, and guidance they need to develop healthy and happy relationships.

Read more on the blog.

Cassandra DeBenedetto is a senior at Princeton and the founder of the Anscombe Society, a new student group at Princeton that gives support for those who choose not to hook-up.


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